Geir Moulson
The Associated Press
June 24, 2008 - 4:23pm

Countries at an international conference Tuesday agreed to commit $242 million to strengthen the Palestinian Authority's police and judicial systems, sending what Germany's foreign minister called a "clear signal of support" for building a Palestinian state.

The money will go to projects that include police training, building a forensic lab and prisons, installing communications networks, and creation of courthouses.

Organizers had hoped for commitments of $190 million going into the meeting, which brought together officials including Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Arab League Secretary-General Amre Moussa.

"The result, I must say, is that a clear signal of support for the building of a Palestinian state was sent from here today," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the conference host.

Officials stressed that improving the civilian security infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority - which controls only the West Bank after last year's takeover of Gaza by the Islamic militant Hamas - was essential to the creation of a Palestinian state.

"It is not enough to determine the borders of a future Palestinian state," Livni said as the conference opened. "When handing over the keys to the Palestinians, we must know that our neighbor is not a failed state or a terror state but a partner in peace."

International Middle East envoy Tony Blair said upgrading security was essential regardless of whether progress is made toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of the year, a precursor to establishing a Palestinian state.

"It is important in any event that we build the capacity and the capability of the Palestinian Authority," Blair said at a news conference.

Not only does it matter to Palestinians that there is a proper authority for law and order, he said, but having additional security capacity will make it easier to push for an end to Israeli occupation.

Fayyad welcomed what he called "a strong expression of support" for a Palestinian state and said that "security is the most important service any responsible government must provide to its citizens." But he also stressed the need for Israel to comply with international demands for a freeze in building Jewish settlements and for a change in Israeli "security behavior."

He cited an Israeli raid Tuesday in Nablus in which a senior Islamic Jihad commander was killed and a bystander shot as an example of the kind of activity that has to stop immediately "if, in fact, we are going to succeed in the provision of security to our people."

To bolster the projects, the European Union plans to increase its 32-member police mission to provide 70 training personnel, including judges, prosecutors and other legal experts.

The so-called EUPOL COPPS mission has been bolstering a now 900-strong civil police force. It plans to widen its focus to improving jails and how courts operate.

The mission's leader, Colin Smith, has said the court system is seriously backed up, with 80 percent of prisoners in Palestinian jails waiting to be sentenced.

Smith welcomed the outcome of Tuesday's meeting, saying in a statement that "the financial commitments that have been made today ... will be instrumental in turning words into palpable results."

The conference was followed by a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers - the U.S., EU, U.N. and Russia. The group stressed in a statement the "urgent need for more visible progress on the ground in order to build confidence and support progress" in negotiations toward peace launched at Annapolis, Maryland, in November.


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